Angelo Libatore was a fourth-generation Italian-American (with a dash of Greek thrown in for good measure). He prided himself in being "off the grid," without the Internet, cable television, or even a driver's license. He never voted, had no insurance policies or bank accounts. He spent his days tending to his one acre farm, the crops he used for barter. Food, clothing, even his prized Gibson electric guitar and Mesa Boogie amplifier were acquired through barter.
One morning, there a large van labeled Immigration and Customs Enforcement pulled into his driveway. The front doors opened and two burly, shaven-head men all dressed in in black approached him. "I will need to see your ID," the first one said, showing his badge.
Angelo had been outside since sunrise without a shirt and his skin was deeply tanned, his long, curly hair wet with sweat. His handlebar mustache was a tribute to musician Carlos Santana whose guitar skills he idolized but never came anywhere near emulating. "I had a birth certificate," he said. "No idea where it is. You see," he said, leading them inside, "I can be a bit messy and things get misplaced. Some for years. Why, it was just last week I found ..."
"Just give us ID," the second agent interrupted.
"This might take some time," Angelo said, trying to remember when he may have last used it. He moved a stack of papers but no luck.
"No ID," his partner said. "Looks Central American."
"I was born in Indiana, for Christ's sake," Angelo complained, rummaging through his bookshelf. "My great-great grandparents came over from Italy in 1902 ... well, except for a grandmother who came from Greece in 1948."
"And your name is?" the second ICE agent asked.
"Angelo Libatore," he replied.
"Sounds Spanish," the first agent stated. "Habla Español?"
"Not much," he answered. "Same with French, German, Italian, and Greek."
"Drivers license? Bills?"
"Never felt the need to drive," he said, a slight lie. "The power and water bills are still addressed to my father, who died when I was 2."
"Inadmissible," the second agent said, pulling out handcuffs. "For all we know, you killed the old man for the land and stole his identity. We will probably be contacting the county to excavate the property looking for the body. You need to come with us."
Both agents took deep, angry breaths. "To the detention center," the first said. "Where else?"
The second agent began issuing orders in Spanish. Angelo simply nodded and responded to their gestures, his Spanish barely beyond knowing how to say 'Do you speak Spanish' in Spanish. He got into the windowless van and was surprised to see Maria Andrassy, a tall Gypsy woman who often bartered cooked dinners for his tomatoes.
"Mimi," he said, referring to her usual nickname, "They got you too?"
"You're a neatness-freak compared to my house," she said. "Some days I can't find any clean clothes and spend half the day naked. She smiled. "I'm sure you've seen me hanging my clothes to dry."
A sheepish grin came on Angelo's face, but he said nothing, not wanting to admit how the sight effected him -- or how he took care of those matters..
Another stop and it was Benito -- Benny -- Chavez, whose family had lived in Texas all the way back from when it was a part of Mexico. One ancestor fought alongside Sam Houston at San Jacinto. Another fought for the South -- even though he never owned any slaves -- but Texas was his country and by 1861 standards, he was patriotic. He was killed in the New Mexico campaign. Benny claimed he was the dying soldier Clint Eastwood let have a puff of his cheroot. (Angelo had his doubts; he might counter his friend's boast by saying Don Corleone was based on his great uncle, something he highly doubted -- and would not want to know if it was true.)
All of Benny's male ancestors had seen military service. From his great grandfather who was slightly wounded in Belgium three days before the November 11th, 1918 armistice, to his grandfather who saw Dachau first hand and would argue vehemently with any fool who called the Holocaust a hoax. "So what were all those bodies I saw," he'd bellow, "Storefront mannequins?"
Benny's father was at Khe Sahn and got several medals -- none he cared to discuss. Benny spent three boring, terrifying tours of duty in Irag, meeting a waitress in Baghdad who spoke broken, and somewhat mangled, English. He became a regular at the restaurant, quickly becoming friends. The Army made their courtship and marriage difficult. Her naturalization was a lengthy, complicated, and convoluted process but in December 2016, with some trepidation about the future, she became an American citizen.
Benny's wife, Gamila, would be next in the van. "Gamila Chavez," she said, smiling, "confused the black-suits out the fuck of them." She laughed, amused by the whole thing.
"What about this?" Benny asked.
"Trump bad," she said, "but no al-Baghdadi. No Saddam."
"So far?" he asked.
"America not Iraq," she said. "We the people. Constitution. Stronger than Mister Orange Asshole,"
"I voted for Mister Orange Asshole," Mimi said, looking down. "I heard his bullshit but liked some of his message. I was trying to change jobs, which were scarce. As for the rest, thought being Romani made me safe."
"Is anyone really safe?" Angelo muttered. "Three native-born Americans with misplaced paperwork."
"And not driving will soon be made illegal," Mimi added. "Cities are cutting subsidies to transit. New streets are built without sidewalks."
"Gammy and I were ticketed last week for jaywalking," Benny stated. "New ordinance prohibited walking in the street. Talk about a catch 22."
"I flunked my driving test," Angelo admitted. "Ran a hidden stop sign. Decided I'd be the sort of driver people buy insurance to protect against."
"Maybe we should all turn Amish," Benny joked. "Horse and buggy, and all the scrapple you can eat."
"Or care to," Gamila said, shrugging her shoulders. "Not practicing Muslim, but still do a one eating rule. Pigs be like cats -- cute babies, nasty grown up."
"I, myself," Mimi added, "am on a strict no-snout diet."
"But you do make great Goulash," Angelo said, smiling.
"Ever the flirt," Mimi said, returning the smile with a wink.
The van entered an affluent neighborhood, the sounds of numerous Prius and Tesla engines suggesting that. The doors flew open and a new "Illegal" was thrown in. The First Lady.
"The motherfuckers!" she shouted, in the direction of the ICE agents.
"Hey lady," one of the agents said, "we don't like this any more than you do."
"Then why don't you quit? Big baldy."
"Twenty years on the job. Then this bozo with his cult of personality comes along. We used to be ..."
His partner looked at him. "You heard the orders -- we''re not supposed to talk to them," he said, slamming the door shut.
The First Lady looked at the others. "If you must know, he likes his big,scary houses. Tacky gold house and the new one. After seeing ghost of President Lyndon and impressive ... uh ... Johnson, I move. I have my little, cozy house -- not tacky and no ghosts. Secret Service drive me back-forth no around seeing witnesses."
"And say you my English bad," Gamila said, smiling at her husband.
The First Lady continued her rant. "Neighbors all strangers. Hear accent, when me on phone. Call icy people. Papers all at his house, he insist." And then under her breath, "The worm."
When they arrived at the detention center, the First Lady demanded on a phone call. Vehemently, and with profuse profanity, demanded it. Security relented, one noticing the resemblance. She called her lawyer.
These arrests never made the news. Angelo, Mimi, Benny, and Gamila were all released only after signing a non-disclosure agreement about the whole mess.
Mr. and Mrs. Chavez considered their options about starting a family. "Scientists say everyone be brown soon anyway," Gammy stated. "We both brown. We both know good, white Americans who'd bang us in minute. Why not speed process. Can have one or two full-Chavez kiddos later."
"The Madisons? Rich WASP couple down the street -- always want to be swingers?"
"I thought Mister liked you and Missus liked me."
"She wants kids," Benny explained, "apparently he doesn't."
"So we dilute gene pool," she said, smiling.
"It's the American way."
Mimi admitted she found Angelo appealing, despite her being five inches taller One evening she made them both dinner, a Gypsy variation on schnitzel. She wore a bandeau-top Gypsy-pattern dress. Her breasts bounced nicely as she sat down at the table.
"You've always been," he joked, "a woman I have to look up to."
"Dinner, and then?" Things between her and Angelo quickly got very serious and very gleefully loud well into the night.
The First Lady became even more distant from her husband. Now instead of simply refusing to hold his hand, she slapped it away with enough force to cause him to wince with pain. Especially when she was damn sure the television cameras would catch it.
Article © Dan Mulhollen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2019-10-14
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.